Buying low, flying high

In recent years, Delta has improved their flying experience quite a bit.  They’ve upgraded to newer and bigger planes, they’ve improved their on time performance and baggage handling, they’ve upgraded their onboard catering, and they’ve even produced some of the most entertaining safety videos around, such as this 80’s themed video:


Unfortunately, along the way, Delta has also done a lot to tick off frequent flyers.  Here are some examples:

  • They raised prices in their award chart twice in 2014
  • They cut mileage earning on certain partners
  • They introduced revenue requirements for earning elite status (Medallion Qualifying Dollars)
  • They cut the ability to bring friends or family members into SkyClubs except for those who subscribe to the most expensive plan
  • They made their same day confirmed change policy much less customer friendly (due to now requiring same fare class availability)
  • They took away the possibility of complimentary elite upgrades for certain transcon routes
  • They shortened the elite membership year (elite status earned in 2014 for 2015 now ends at the end of January 2016 rather than February)

And, most concerning of all to many:

  • They changed from a miles-based to a fare-based scheme for earning miles on paid flights.

Rapid Travel Chai summed it all up in his post: Delta Strives to be the Worst Airline for Business Travelers.  

Running to the competition

Several people I’ve spoken with, who previously held elite status with Delta, have defected to American Airlines or Alaska Airlines.  Those choices make a lot of sense.  Their miles are worth more for international travel and their loyalty programs are more customer friendly (especially for elites) than Delta’s. 

The risk of fleeing to the competition, of course, is that the other airlines will follow suit and race Delta to the bottom.  In fact, American Airlines has already sprung big changes upon their members such as:

  • Elimination of OneWorld Explorer awards
  • Elimination of free stopovers at gateway cities on award tickets
  • Increased AAnytime award pricing

These are significant changes and are particularly painful to those who were planning to use these options.  You can read more about the above changes at One Mile at a Time.

More for the rest of us

While the analogy is far from perfect, frequent flyers’ defection from Delta reminds me of the way people tend to sell stock shares when the market tumbles.  For fear of losing even more, people often sell low rather than adhering to the age old advice to buy low, sell high. 

As Delta implements their mixed bag of “improvements” and people flee to other carriers, I think those of us who stick with Delta will likely have better experiences:

  • As the number of high level elites goes down, the odds of scoring free Medallion upgrades should increase.
  • As people earn fewer miles (due to defections and to the new revenue based earning scheme), competition for award flights should decrease and therefore saver level awards should be easier to get.
  • SkyClubs should be less crowded.

Credit cards vs flights

For those who earn miles primarily from travel, sticking with Delta might be a bad move.  If your flights tend to be far and cheap, Delta’s switch to revenue based mile earnings will mean that you’ll earn fewer miles than before as of January 1st 2015. Those who typically fly expensive, short flights, though, will earn more miles.  And, those who earn miles primarily through credit card spend will be mostly unaffected.  In fact, Delta’s revenue requirements for earning elite status are waived for anyone who spends $25,000 or more on a Delta branded credit card.  And, the Delta Platinum and Reserve credit cards continue to offer both bonus miles and MQMs (needed for elite status) with high spend.  Delta is the only major airline in which it is possible to achieve top tier elite status from credit card spend alone.

As a Delta hub captive, it has already made sense for me to use Delta branded credit cards to earn miles and elite status, and I’ve done so for quite a few years.  With the latest round of changes, I actually think that it makes more sense than ever.  With potentially fewer elites to compete with and fewer miles in circulation, I expect that both my elite status and SkyMiles will be worth more.

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Last updated on September 29th, 2014

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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The Weekly Flyer

And don’t forget Delta downgraded their “Have One On Us” in-flight coupons to remove the snack as a redemption option.

Darth Chocolate
Darth Chocolate

Well, for those of us who fly long distances AND pay high prices (BE International to Europe and Asia), we will make out like bandits on the earnings side. And the award chart did not really raise prices, so for me it is a win-win.

I stand to max out on redeemable miles (75K per trip) and will make high level elite with no problem.

I have also seen the effect in SkyClubs, with them being less crowded. And if you are a Diamond, starting in 2015, you can get the “executive membership” as one of your choice benefits. The rest of the choice benefits are an “meh” in any event, except it helps out with the wife’s birthday and anniversary by getting the Tiffany gift cards.

Now, if they could only get the CC scammers under control adn make it so you can only have 1 card for the MQM bonus, life will be much better.

Marshall Jackson

Some people will leave Delta for sure. Some likely already have. I’m just not sure that the numbers are as massive as many believe. They have a lot of corporate contracts that they’re going to keep whether SkyMiles 2015 comes or not. I think a lot of their bread and butter most profitable customers are going to continue to fly Delta. Some begrudgingly as hub captives, but many others because they are a solidly reliable airline, with a good product.


The only thing that would get me interested in Delta again is if they made standard award redemption more plausible. It’s just too frustrating to collect the miles and then try to use them. Like why not credit a Delta flight to Alaska? And why mess with collecting Skymiles via credit cards if you can collect a more valuable currency?

Obviously, if you live in a Delta hub city, the equation changes.


I am frequenting between two cities every weekend for the past 3 months using a mix of Delta and US Airways and i must agree that Delta seems to be the best. In fact when a flight was delayed for about an hour (which happens frequently on friday evening flights on delta for some silly reasons like crew unavailability which really sucks), they did provide unlimited snacks and drinks to all the travellers which was amazing. This is customer service. Serving customers which is the basic building block of airlines industry seems to have forgotten this factor from their minds and books and it came as a pleasant surprise. On the other hand, there was a two+ hour delay after entering the aircraft on a recent US Airways flight early morning and despite fellow passengers including kids looking so desparate and hungry (unable to even get down to buy some snacks), the monkeys in the airlines was looking if passengers had their safety belts on even when there was no indication that the flight is about to take off. Finally they ended up serving a drink even after me tweeting again and again about the poor service standards in place. Airlines doesnt seem to understand the service standards anymore. This was the most irritating flight i ever had in the recent times. Having looked at both these airlines for these 3 months, i will more likely fly Delta compared to US. And i fully agree with your perspective that those who stick with Delta might stand to actually benefit and hope Delta doesnt disappoint.


Wrestle Mania 31:

In this corner, the Frequent Miler


In this corner, View from the Wing.

Get your popcorn ready.

William Charles

If customers are defecting from Delta, why would the other businesses follow suit? I think the real issue is that the silent majority of Delta elites aren’t leaving – the other airlines are seeing this and realizing they could do the same without loosing market share.

captain what's his name
captain what's his name

You can get a companion pass on Southwest on credit card spending alone. Not “elite” status, but not too shabby.

Ray Time
Ray Time

Confused on “Delta is the only major airline in which it is possible to achieve top tier elite status from credit card spend alone.”

Thought 30K MQM was the max you could get through AMEX credit cards – that gets you Silver….is that considered top tier elite status?

What am I missing?


So your reward for sticking with Delta is more Skymiles? Ummm, no thanks, I can barely use the ones I already have. I am happy with Silver Medallion status from my credit card spend, so when I do fly Delta, I get a free bag, free exit row at booking, and the occasional upgrade.

Meanwhile, I am free to book most convenient and inexpensive flights from any airline as needed.